Residents storm City Hall to protest against the Redistricting Task Force and to give public comment against the mapping process. Photo by Annika Hom. April 11, 2022.

You don’t hear about the insanely powerful but arcane Redistricting Task Force unless there’s been a disaster. And you’ve been hearing about it — because there’s been a disaster. 

Four members of this body walked out of a recent meeting and publicly accused their colleagues of taking marching orders from the city’s powers-that-be to craft a map that purposefully comforts the comfortable and afflicts the afflicted. 

So, that’s a disaster. And if you believe the disgruntled task force members and the hundreds of attendees who have been packing these never-ending meetings, so is the task force’s work product. Sifting through the wreckage to find the figurative black box comes next, and that may be the task of teams of lawyers. It seems a safe bet to say San Francisco’s controversial new voting lines will be the subject of an injunction request. And, since this is San Francisco after all, by November we may also be voting to undo or supplant our voting lines and alter the way they are drawn.

The coming weeks and months are going to be agonizing. It didn’t need to be this way.  

The final draft map approved on Sunday after four of the task members left the redistricting meeting.

And you may ask yourself, “Well, how did we get here?”

This is a difficult question to answer in full. No one can say we’re in a good place, and no one should defend the process that led us here. But why things have turned so disastrously cannot easily be chalked up to any single misstep. 

But — again, because this is San Francisco after all — we should start with incompetence. Separate and apart from the accusations that the task force was beset with top-down political pressure and chicanery (and these accusations emanate not just from cranks or loons or Twitter-besotted politicians but, again, from members of the task force itself), the process has been indefensible. 

And the pace, until recently, had been sclerotic. While both outside organizations and members of the task force itself agitated late last year to commence drawing lines and showing the public preliminary maps, this action was rebuffed by the task force’s leadership. 

The excuse given at the time was that more public input was needed. But it’s hard to see how the ensuing public input was reflected in the map that was produced. Rather, it seems to have been purposefully brushed aside. 

“I am on the record in November, January and February calling for us to start mapping,” task force member J. Michelle Pierce told Mission Local. “If you are scared to map, why did you sign up for this body? But the vice-chair and chair” — Ditka Reiner and the Rev. Arnold Townsend, respectively — ”said they needed to take public advisement into account and see what the public needed.” 

Pierce sighs: “Where is that in the final map? They were full of shit then, and they are full of shit now.” 

“They were full of shit then and they are full of shit now.”

Task force member J. Michelle Pierce

Perhaps the task force was making a play for the procrastination Hall of Fame. So it was only painfully recently that the first potential maps were put on display, leading to a classic wait-and-hurry approach and the surreal spectacle of task force members bringing up new iterations of the map and making substantive new edits in last-minute, pre-dawn meetings. To make matters worse, maps that assuaged the assembled neighborhood groups were approved — one by a reassuring, 8-1 vote — only to be rescinded in subsequent 3 a.m. votes after everyone went home and fell asleep. 

The process, already strained, ruptured under the pressure of the last week, and has devolved into a minority of task force members accusing the majority of dishonesty. Non-partisan bodies, it should be noted, are not non-political. And there is no clean and easy way to draw up districts; it is a thankless task at best.  

The task force has buckled under accusations that undue political pressure has led to the creation of a “class warfare map” which will result in “ethnic suicide.” These accusations from the task force members were as public as they were pointed. And we’ll get to that. But first, let’s focus on that map. 

Because, even if it wasn’t the result of political pressure from the city’s moderate establishment, this map looks damn near exactly like the one you’d get if it was. 

Task force members in session after four members left in protest.

Drawing up district lines is one of the great conundrums of human existence. There is no way to make everyone happy, and what’s fair is a very subjective measure. Attempts to fix one problem on one side of the city can lead to other problems on the other side; the map is a bit like a game of Jenga, and it collapsed on the task force on multiple occasions. 

There is always give-and-take in redistricting. The task force could have, if it so chose, created a moderate-friendly map that still kept together many of the sensitive communities — and renters — vital to city progressives. And, odds are, you would never have heard a thing; there would have been recriminations and grumbling, but not the sort of crashing-and-burning disaster that sparks news stories and legal threats and noisy protests. 

Because the map, as it stands, isn’t just moderate-friendly, it’s a moderate fever dream. Perhaps this is why task force member Jeremy Lee excoriated his colleagues by stating, during public comment no less, that “you got greedy, you got sloppy, and fucked up.”

Here’s a synopsis of the map: 

In District 1, the addition of Seacliff brings an influx of some of the city’s wealthiest homeowners into the district — also, the left-leaning student population of USF is now split; District 3 takes all of Russian Hill, adding many well-off and white voters to the area; District 4 is set to absorb the conservative-leaning homeowners of Merced Manor and Lakeshore; Dean Preston’s District 5 has been sliced into an odd tank-like shape, losing parts of renter-heavy NoPa, Haight-Ashbury and Cole Valley; District 6 loses the Tenderloin; District 9 absorbs many well-off white voters into a dwindling Latino stronghold and District 10 loses the sizable Black population of one side of Potrero Hill while taking on the Portola — weakening the Black vote in Board President Shamann Walton’s district while creating a powerful conservative Asian voting bloc.   

“I feel like when we write this final report, if we get to it, y’all are going to have to defend that — absolutely on every line we drew,” Pierce said in the wee hours of the first meeting back after the walkout. “We need to include an equity and access report, because I can guarantee you, on almost every line we drew, we reduced equity and access.”

Whether the map looks the way it does because it was crafted by an invisible hand and pushed through by minions or everything happened to turn out just so is functionally a distinction without a difference. And will be, for the next 10 years, if everything comes to pass. 

But accusations of the former have been made, loudly — and by the task force members who were, after all, in the room where it happened. 

City Hall and its environs, April 17, 2020.

“Members, oh members. You know who this is,” began Jeremy Lee’s comment at the off-the-rails April 10-11 marathon meeting. “When you go home tonight, I hope you can look at yourself in the mirror and see the truly pathetic shells of people you are. You made your bed now fucking lie in it. Enjoy seeing your political careers burn down in flames because you are absolute fools if you think that this map has any chance of holding up in court.”

At least clerk John Carroll knew who it was; Lee didn’t identify himself, but Carroll thanked “Member Lee” in a chipper voice after that chipper message. 

Lee subsequently apologized for his comments, in which he also used a crass fellatio analogy to describe city leaders’ dominance over his colleagues. His apology was thrown back in his face by member Lily Ho: “I don’t take degrading dick-sucking insults from men. And you are not forgiven.”

Pierce didn’t apologize at all, stating on April 11 that she believed every word she’d said one day prior. She accused her colleagues of wasting her time and the community’s time to produce a preordained map: “If you guys were going to be bought and paid for over a petty grudge, by someone else who is not in the room, you should have let me know back in September, so I could sleep,” she said. 

It was left unmentioned who was being discussed in the above accusation. But, considering Pierce’s ire over the splitting off of Potrero from District 10, which she likened to “declaring war” on the city’s Black community, it stands to reason she is referencing animus between Mayor London Breed and Supervisor Shamann Walton, who would find himself weakened by the excision of Potrero Hill from District 10. 

Member Chema Hernández Gil referred to the redistricting effort as a “sham process,” and Raynell Cooper — who only days earlier had survived a ham-fisted attempt by city progressives to unseat the three Elections Commission appointees to the redistricting task force — said he had been “duped” and “this isn’t the process I signed up for, and it only became clearly apparent to me tonight.”

Hernández Gil, on Tuesday morning, matter-of-factly told his colleagues about what would happen “when we’re being deposed;” legal action is, on whatever grounds, is being treated as a fait accompli. 

This promises to be agonizing. Candidates for the Board of Supervisors, declaring in June, will have been required to have resided in their nascent districts for 30 days, so it figures that everything must be wrapped up by mid-May. That’s one hell of a pace, and the political furor could be overwhelming. 

The over-the-top and bitter dialogue coming from city progressives, and the very likely legal action, could well obscure whatever legitimate complaints they harbor. Regardless, this is an existential argument: The map, as it stands, would likely hamstring progressive supervisorial chances for the next decade. And, if the means of drawing districts remains unchanged, forever after. 

“Let’s not sugarcoat what just happened,” said task force member Chasel Lee after his colleagues’ early-morning walkout. “Let’s be real. Any map we pass at this point may be legally legitimate, but publicly, will not be. That’s just the reality. Let me say it up front.” 

That seems about right. And the legal legitimacy, too, will likely be put to the test. 

“It’s not going to be over,” predicted Hernández Gil on Tuesday. “I think we are legitimately — and we heard it from several speakers — we’re going to be stuck in legal limbo on this for weeks or months to come. We really, truly are.” 

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Managing Editor/Columnist. Joe was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left.

“Your humble narrator” was a writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015, and a senior editor at San Francisco Magazine from 2015 to 2017. You may also have read his work in the Guardian (U.S. and U.K.); San Francisco Public Press; San Francisco Chronicle; San Francisco Examiner; Dallas Morning News; and elsewhere.

He resides in the Excelsior with his wife and three (!) kids, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers.

The Northern California branch of the Society of Professional Journalists named Eskenazi the 2019 Journalist of the Year.

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  1. Sorry, Joe as much as I respect your reporting, your synopsis of “what we have” was incomplete – you left out four districts. Westside Observer’s summation is below. Thorough and, I think, accurate predictions for upcoming elections.
    District 1. While the Richmond has gained new voters from Seacliff and Presidio Heights, populations that had been well represented by their Pacific Heights Supervisor, they also lost blocks north of Lone Mountain, along Anza and Geary – mostly tenants and picked up about 15 blocks of tenant rich voters from the west end of the Panhandle. Since Connie Chan’s victory over Marjan Pilhour was close, many will be watching this race. Some sources have suggested that mayoral staffer Philhour has been behind the D1 acquisition of conservative Seacliff and Presidio Heights.

    District 2. May be two or three points more progressive, they lose conservative Seacliff and Presidio Heights, lose conservative portion of Russian Hill who are mostly homeowners, and get the tenants south of Geary — down into what had been the Western Addition. Supervisor Stefani will have to run again in November.

    District 3. Splitting the Russian Hill homeowners from this district leaves only the portion that is 12% Chinese means that this becomes a white majority district again. It is unlikely to elect an Asian candidate for another 10 years.

    District 4. Gordon Mar barely won his election, and with the loss of Inner Sunset tenants, as well as adding the new conservative south of Sloat areas (these areas voted for Trump in higher numbers than anywhere in the City), it means that a moderate candidate could very well replace him. D4 is about two points more conservative, if he had acquired more of the Inner Sunset instead of less, he would stand a chance. His chances hinge on his support for development in RH1 neighborhoods, according to some observers, an option that is very unpopular in the district.

    District 5. Dean Preston, who was clearly targeted in the shredding of his district into 5 districts, will likely survive. While the Tenderloin, his new territory of 29,000 people who have never voted for him, is almost entirely tenants, he has shown a deep interest in tenant welfare, and may easily win them over. This may backfire on the Mayor. Many eyes are on this 2024 race.

    District 6. This depends on the Haney/Campos runoff for Assembly. If Haney goes to Sacramento the Mayor gets an appointment, a good choice, perhaps someone from South Beach or Rincon Hill, from the merchant community and a minority candidate that seat could well be secure in the new affluent D6. There are no heirs apparent.

    District 7. Seven is no longer a moderate district. Eliminating south of Sloat, add in the Inner Sunset all the way to Kezar, Supervisor Melgar might be able to win it, but no one to her right. If tenants, especially those Inner Sunset voters who are disappointed in her leadership on UCSF expansion, were to join with Parkmerced tenants to mount a campaign from the left, they would still only be about 30% of the voters.

    District 8. Very little changes for Supervisor Mandelman, especially since they carved out the two-block area where he lives so that he is still in his district. The addition of Cole Valley and Ashbury Heights are similar in political sentiment to Noe Valley.

    District 9. There may be a horserace for whoever runs in 2024 when Supervisor Ronen is termed out. Replacing the Portola with Potrero Hill is a new ballgame. The new district is only 24.6% Latinx, but if a progressive like Tony Kelly from Potrero Hill were to run against another progressive from Bernal Heights, their votes could cancel each other out and the election could go to a Latinx candidate. This is another race where anyone could win.

    District 10. With the elimination of 45% of Whites — Potrero Hill and Dogpatch out, Portola added, Supervisor Walton could still be re-elected in 2024. If an Asian favorite son (or daughter) from Visitation Valley or Portola were to challenge Walton, someone who could put those two competing neighborhoods together it is doable. But Walton must run in November and is an unknown candidate to his Portola residents. He won his election with 41% of the first-round votes in the ranked-choice system. But in terms of actual voters, the Potrero Hill-Dogpatch comprised 43% of the electorate in D 10 prior to the newly drawn map.

    District 11. Supervisor Safai is termed-out and this change may be a positive for Avalos, though making a come-back is a very difficult, especially with a 56% Asian population. It is possible that an Asian candidate who could attract African Americans may win.

  2. Percentages in my last post are from US Census website 2010 for zips 94134 and 94124. Unfortunately, 2020 data (broken down by zip code) hasn’t been uploaded yet.

  3. As a resident of D 10 (Vis Valley) I’m grateful that the progressive gerrymander of D9/D10 has been erased in this final map. Supervisor Ronan fought the good fight to make Portola white.
    She supported (and steered city grants to) businesses for white folks:
    FDR (a brew pub owned by residents of the uber white Miraloma Park, closed for good during the pandemic)
    Churn Urban Creamery (Asian American owners who reside in the Outer Sunset, closed for good during the pandemic) and the gentrification groundbreaker in the Portola – Four Barrel Coffee. Closed permanently due to the owner being “me-too’d” it’s now Hey Neighbor.
    Supervisor Walton no longer has to appease the wealthy techy Tesla progressives of Potrero Hill. He can now focus on the predominately working class Asian, (45%) African American (21%) white (14%) and of course “other” (13%) in the “new” D 10.

    1. I do not disagree with everything you said by any means. But when you use racist terms like “uber white” then you detract from your message. If people used similarly disparaging terms for blacks, Hispanics or Asians they would be moderated out of here, and rightly so.

      1. My use of “White” does not refer to skin color but lifestyle – as in the defunct blog “Stuff White People Like.” You don’t have to be white to like White people stuff. If you build it they will come…

  4. I think attention should be paid more to the civility of civil discourse, personal insults distract from what people are talking about. You can be angry and argue without getting personal, ask a lawyer.

  5. I think the whole frustrating aspect of redrawing district lines is that you can either base it on keeping neighborhoods contiguous and have logical geographic boundaries based on population sizing, or you can insert socioeconomic or cultural inclusion factors, but you cannot have it both ways. In the end it only seems fairest to keep the districts as contiguous as possible and not attempt to predispose any given district to a desired political outcome. Therefore as currently drawn in the final draft map, Districts 3, 6, 9, and 10 “more or less” pass muster, but not 1, 2, 5, 7, nor 11. Indeed Districts 2 and 5 make no logical sense and are ‘de facto’ gerrymandered whether you like it or not, even if drawn that way with the “best of intentions”.

    Sorry, it’s time for San Francisco to grow up a little…

  6. You so what you reap.
    All of this “strum and drang” is the inevitable/direct result of poor housing policy which has crammed all housing development and therefore, population growth, on the east side of the City.
    If you want more stable District boundaries, then properly zone to make sure housing creation occurs throughout the City in order to spread out population growth more uniformly.

    1. DARVO
      DENY–gerrymandering is happening
      ATTACK–residents as housing objectors
      REVERSE–YIMBY gerrymanders and existing residents
      VICTIM–gerrymanderers become victims and
      OPPRESSORS–are the existing residents.

    1. Wow, what a hard content-free article. We get hardly any info on what is actually changing. “District 6 loses the Tenderloin;” – what happens to it?
      All we have is one tiny map mostly of water and a bunch of allegations that we have no hard factual basis to use to evaluate.
      We’re supposed to evaluate them based on our extant partisan prejudices? It seems that’s what the authors want us readers to do. I don’t feel well-served.

      1. Matthew —

        You can read the other 37 articles we’ve written on this subject, some of which are linked to.

        JE

      2. It wasn’t that the article was fact-free. Rather that ideological bias oozed out of every word. and the facts were cherry-picked.

        Joe comes across as a good writer. He is just very biased. Nothing wrong with that as long as you accept the piece as propaganda rather than true journalism.

  7. To think I actually applied to serve on the Task Force. The members have my sympathy; all of them. I don’t think that the new lines will have any bearing on future elections of supervisors, or their collective decision-making. But I’m sure there will be people saying “if only we’d drawn the lines right in ’22, this wouldn’t have happened”. But they weren’t on the task force; they had no right to draw the lines their way. Sour grapes, Hilary.

  8. How do you package this farce? is there a sitcom blooming in the dark where the names are changed to protect the guilty? Or perhaps we need a virtual reality game with fake blood spilling out onto the marble stairs. City Hall may need the money after the voters exit in disgust. They can take all those homes they have been itching to destroy, blow them up and see who comes running for their new beachfront property condos that are guaranteed to sink into the ocean they are occupied. One can only take so much abuse before we need a break, and that could mean a more faster withdrawal from this sinking ship. It might be easier to watch from a distance.

  9. “The map as it stands would likely hamstring progressive supervisorial chances for the next decade”.

    I did not realize that the purpose of the election map was to ensure enduring power for the left-wing forces in this city. I thought it was to accurately reflect the will of the voters, a majority of whom are not left-wing, as we see in every mayoral race.

    And by the way, 2 of the last 4 mayors have been black, so the idea that blacks are under-represented in SF politics seems a little thin on substance.

    1. Umm, Black faces in high places does not translate into Black political power. Those Black faces have not well represented the needs of Black folks in SF.

    2. What if the headlines read, “This map, as it stands would likely hamstring moderate supervisorial chances for the next decade”? The ethnic background of SF is 48.1% white, 33.3% Asian, 6.1%black, 15% hispanic and 15% collectively Native American, Pacific Islander and other. LGBTQ are 6.6%.
      We have 10 out of 11 progressive supervisors. How is this fair? Where is the objectivity? What about all those “other” people who are not super progressive – just plain old moderates wanting a clean and safe city?

      1. I would disagree with your numbers. 2020 Census for SF County reads: 40% non-Hispanic Whites, 36% ‘Asian’, 15% Latino, 6% Black, 4% Mixed… and LGBT is about 15% in the City (SF-Oak-Hayward metro district -> 6%).

    3. @Tom – Breed eked out a victory by I believe under a point, nearly a 50/50 split. Besides, there are many swing voters and who won the mayoral race is not a metric that should be used when drawing district lines to account for population changes.

      Black communities lack agency and no supervisor can correct that, but fracturing a Black voting bloc is another slap in the face to communities that have been systematically disempowered for generations.

      Questioning whether Brown and Breed are “the wrong kind of black” tips your hand.

      1. My comment was aimed squarely at someone who claimed that blacks are under-represented and who then dismissed various black elected officials on some arbitrary basis.

        In my over 25 years in SF there has always been either 1 or 2 black supervisors out of 11, and yet only 5% of the population are black.

        Moreover 50% of the last four mayors are black, as noted.

        So the reality is blacks have been over-represented for decades under the current system. It is natural that they do not want that to end, but would it really be fair to perpetuate a system that rewards some races over others? Especially if that is being done deliberately rather than accidentally?

          1. Thank you, but it is more a matter of deciding that I wont see the world through the prism of race or any other stereotyping. When did identity politics ever real help anyone?

        1. @Tom – the claim was that the needs of Black folks in SF were/are not well represented under Brown or Breed. Whether that is true or not, equating that it is based on racial representation alone is a shallow-minded, oversimplified viewpoint.

          1. I could drive a Muni bus through the hole in that argument.

            So if blacks are over-represented at City Hall, then it is the wrong kind of black?

            Had it crossed your mind that maybe what you regard as the right kind of black just isn’t an electoral priority in any district no matter how much the map has been gerrymandered in that past?

            When you are 5% of the population, then you don’t get to call the shots. There are other cities that are effectively run by blacks. And yet here you are 🙂

  10. I think this article did not emphasize enough who is getting hurt by this sham process: those who are already struggling to survive. These are the folks that walked through city hall together yesterday. “Progressive Power” is not a game, it is what will support those most vulnerable folks who are trying to stay alive in SF within their communities. I haven’t heard many “non progressives” who care about this except for the odd press op…..

    1. Nah, the people testifying at City Hall were by and large the paid city funded nonprofit staffers who did not want to have to deal with multiple, potentially hostile, supervisors.

      Had actual SFers organized to make demands on the RDTF, then things might have turned out better. Power knows that the nonprofits that they fund and control, that they pay to ensure that non-white, lower incomer SFers never organize independently, are no threat and acted accordingly.

      Nonprofiteers do not legitimately represent the communities they’re paid to serve. This has long been evident to everyone outside of the nonprofit ecosystem. Now it is decisive political reality laid bare for all to see.

    2. Theresa, you’re absolutely right. I was there and I was humbled by the sight of all the minorities and LGBTQ people who lambasted this sham of a process and demanded justice. Unlike the earlier commenter who claimed the attendance was mostly made up of the usual “non-profit staffers”, the reality was that hardly anyone from the usual non-profits showed up at yesterday’s rally. Absent were the Tenants Union, Tenants Together, DSA, some 90% of the ADC, Bernicrats, HRC, etc. Thankfully, there were members of SOMCAN, CCDC, the Harvey Milk Club and MEDA but for the most part, the real victims of this gerrymandering were there speaking truth to the power. Meanwhile, the YIMBYs showed up like an arsonist who shows up at the site of the building he himself put on fire. They were gleeful over their victory that comforts the comfortable and afflicts the afflicted as Joe put it so aptly. And who was in their entourage? Madame Prosecutor, Nancy Tung who seeks to unseat Chesa Boudin.

  11. And I will be glad that the five corrupt members will continue to lose sleep. Reverend Townsend has been so conflicted over his own votes that he has made bizarrely revealing statements both on record, and purportedly off. Now he will have to live with his excruciating guilt for a long time. He should save himself and the community he weakly claims to support by calling for a reversal of the vote on this map and by becoming the swing vote that will overturn it. As for the Yimbys, who shamelessly congratulate their corrupt colleagues on the task force, they can keep Tweeting their groundless accusations and revealing their complicity in this process.

  12. As to the Saturday night/Sunday predawn massacre…..Chesel Lee’s feigning disgust for the vote by the 5 TF members who remained in the room (his own vote disgusted him?) was lame. If he was truly disgusted by events why didn’t he exit the room and break quorum? Seems like high Kabuki. Similarly, Townsend’s gaseous commentary added hours to the TF meetings and accomplished squat.

  13. Not sure I agree that the map will face real legal challenge* and the members will be deposed. The first legal question will be is the map legal, and since far far worse maps have been upheld, I don’t think we get to the question of how it was drawn.

    *I believe there will be lawsuits, but I don’t think it goes far.

  14. ……and to make the chaos even worse, YIMBY replicants are spreading baseless claims and false info on social media about the TF members who walked out in protest. YIMbots tweets claim that those TF members coordinated the walkout. It’s through the looking glass.

    1. The DARVO technique that, when used, conveys an admission of guilt:
      DENY
      ATTACK
      REVERSE
      VICTIM
      OPPRESSOR

  15. There is nothing “moderate” about these rapacious corporate conservatives.

    They could care less what anyone else could think, and they are determined to get largesse at the expense of everyone else!

  16. “the hundreds of attendees who have been packing these never-ending meetings”

    Based on the city hall meetings I have attended, those attendees are often the same people who show up all the time, usually activists, lobbyists and those with a specific agenda. You complain that their views were dismissed, but then what about the 99% of residents who are too busy with jobs and families and other commitments, to attend? Isn’t it at least possible that the silent majority are much more supportive of changing the maps to remove the existing bias?

    The idea that a few hundred people can show up at city hall and attempt to sway a meeting on a very technical matter that few of them really understand, doesn’t sound very democratic to me at all.

    1. I could not agree with you more.

      And the resulting maps seem like the results of imperfect attempts to keep neighborhoods, cultural and ethnic communities, etc. together, an impossible task given the way neighborhoods and communities overlap and conflict. Help one community stay together and you hurt another community with the same goals.

      A successful compromise, I once read, is one in which all parties end up equally unhappy with the results. Is that what we have here? I haven’t talked to anyone outside of the “usual suspects” of activists who thinks the new maps are that bad.